Sheffield Council reaffirms status as City of Sanctuary that welcomes asylum seekers and refugees
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A meeting of the full council on Wednesday (July 5) unanimously passed a resolution agreeing to confirm the Sheffield City of Sanctuary status, oppose what a motion to the council described as “the Government’s anti-refugee laws” which “effectively ban people from seeking safety in the UK”, support the Lift the Ban campaign and name a councillor as a migrant champion.
A rally held before the meeting heard speeches from Green and Labour councillors Alexi Dimond and Minesh Parekh and campaigners from a range of groups including Right to Remain, South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, Chile Solidarity Network, Asylum Matters and organisers City of Sanctuary Sheffield. Supporters then crowded into the public gallery and an overflow room to hear the debate.
The motion opposes government measures such as the Illegal Migration Bill and the recent Nationality and Borders Act. It also calls on the government to abandon the UK-Rwanda agreement and build a refugee protection system that treats all people with dignity and compassion.
The council has pledged to join the Lift the Ban campaign which is fighting to give people seeking asylum the right to work, which they are currently denied.
The migrant champion will be a point of contact for migrants, community groups and organisations to raise concerns, seek to ensure council services are available to migrants who need them, aim to ensure that the council is not sharing information about individual migrants with the government unless there is a lawful basis for doing so and make sure the needs of vulnerable migrants are met.
Coun Dimond proposed the motion. He dedicated it to people who fought for the Sheffield City of Sanctuary who have since died, plus “uncounted victims of the hostile environment, (and) to the memory of Mohammed Majeedi, the five-year-old boy from Afghanistan who came to Sheffield to escape the Taliban but who fell to his death from a window of the Sheffield Metropolitan Hotel, and for whom to my knowledge there was never an official investigation into his death.
“I would also like to dedicate this motion to the memory of the up to 650 people, including an estimated 100 children, who drowned on the Adriana off the coast of Greece, the victims of Europe’s own hostile environment.”
He added: “Their deaths, like those of the 40,000 or more who have died in the Mediterranean trying to reach safety since 1993, are the result of a deliberate policy, victims of a message we send daily to people fleeing war, oppression, famine and climate change caused by a dysfunctional capitalist system – ‘do not come to the West’.”
He said that people facing those situations have no choice but to come.
Coun Dimond added: “By adopting this motion the council shows that it stands in solidarity with people seeking sanctuary as part of a movement to restore the rights we all deserve; the right to work, the right to a decent home, the right to family life, the right to justice before the law, the right to health and medical treatment, the right to freedom and the right not to be trafficked over 4,000 miles against your will.”
“We will reaffirm Sheffield as a City of Sanctuary and ensure we are doing everything that we can to earn that title.”
He opposed a LibDem amendment as it would drop the migrant champion role.
Seconder Coun Maleiki Haybe (Green, Broomhill and Sharrow Vale), who is of Somali heritage, spoke about how coming to the City of Sanctuary helped him as a child at a city primary school. His teacher got pupils in the class to do some work on what being a City of Sanctuary meant.
He recalled: “Together we crafted poems filled with hope, laughter, love. We dreamed of a world where everyone finds solace and acceptance. In fact, we didn’t dream of it, we thought we did it that day.”
He warned: “Today it’s them and tomorrow it could be you because of climate change and yes it is very real.”
Coun Ann Whitaker, seconding the LibDem amendment, said that around 36 refugee families have been housed in Staindrop Lodge in her West Ecclesfield ward. She said that councillors initially had concerns and she had worked alongside charities and church groups, supporting the refugees.
“It was a privilege to get to know some of these families, to listen to their stories and to support them with issues they have around living in the hotel,” said Coun Whitaker.
She added: “Sheffield is proud to be a City of Sanctuary, we continue to welcome those seeking asylum” and said the majority of people who arrive want to stay because they feel welcomed and safe in Sheffield.
Coun Craig Gamble Pugh said he was “disgusted” by “the reactionary posturing of the current Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge with her comments on migration and stopping overseas care workers from coming to the country”.
He added: “Let’s just call this what it is, it’s racist scapegoating. It’s scapegoating people who come to our shores in good faith seeking a better, safer future for themselves and it’s abhorrent.
“As a nurse I see every day that the strain on our public services is due to years of ideological austerity and savage cuts by the Tory and LibDem governments and in fact just yesterday in my workplace I was chatting with healthcare workers from across the globe who said to me that they felt abused, scapegoated and exploited by what they called my government.
“Well, it’s not my government and she’s not my MP.”
His Labour colleague Coun Ruth Milsom called for widespread support for the Lift the Ban campaign. She said that qualified doctors who arrive as asylum seekers should be allowed to work in the NHS.